Thurman P. Woodfork


Had a buddy named Grissom when I was stationed in Rosas. Rosas was on the Costa Brava, a nice vacation spot for Europeans. And anybody else, for that matter. The town of Rosas, which was a picturesque, sleepy little fishing village back then in the off-season, became jammed with tourists in the summer. It had a long, long, beautiful beach running from the edge of town down to the Mediterranean. I was at work one day up on Mt. Pani, which overlooked Rosas Bay, when Grissom showed up with this magnificent gold lighter. The thing weighed a ton and had his name engraved on it. We weren’t on the same crew, so I had either relieved his crew or he’d relieved mine.

Admiring that gorgeous lighter, I asked how much it cost, and he said it hadn’t cost him anything; some female Swedish tourist had given it to him. Now, Gris, while by no means unattractive, was still not the most handsome man I’d ever seen. Plus he was a large man, and just a tad out of shape. That is, he was far from your average boy-toy type. He once informed me that European women like men of his size because they looked prosperous. Whatever. I had my doubts, being the lean, mean, built for speed type myself at the time.

Anyway, I asked what he’d done to deserve such a beautiful gift, and he stuck his tongue out at me and wiggled it around. I couldn’t imagine what I’d said that made him behave so rudely. (We’ll skip the conversation that followed the tongue wagging. We were both young and chuckled a lot.)

When he left Spain, he and I shared a bottle of Crown Royal for his going away party. Just him and me in the barracks. He said everybody else on the site was an asshole and he wouldn’t piss in their beer, leave alone buy ‘em a drink. Did I mention that Grissom didn’t think much of the average airman – or officer, for that matter? He was one of the more intelligent people I’ve met, no doubt about that, and he knew he was smart. But I suppose making buddies out of the average yahoo on Rosas Air Force Station wasn’t high on his list of life’s necessities. I really don’t know why he decided to make an exception and be friends with me. I guess just about everybody does need a friendly face to jaw with sometimes.

A year or so later, I was stationed on Cut Bank AFS, Montana, and I got a phone call from Gris. I was rather surprised he’d gotten in touch with somebody else at Rosas, which I assumed he must have done in order to find out where I was. We had not communicated after he left Rosas. After we’d gotten the “how are you” and “it’s been a long time” amenities out of the way, he told me he’d just gotten married – to one of the Kellogg heiresses. I had no doubt he had, knowing him, and gave him my sincere congratulations. It sounded just like something he’d set out to do. We chatted for a while, and he hung up. I’ve never heard from him again, but I imagine he’s doing all right for himself, wherever he is.

For some reason, I had the distinct feeling Grissom poked his tongue out again and waggled it about just after he announced his marriage into the Kellogg family. Could be he was reading my mind and chuckling to himself. I well remembered that beautiful gold lighter.

Thinking about Gris and Rosas brought back a lot of other memories. I checked out some photos of the recent 50th Anniversary Reunion of the 875th Radar Squadron, Rosas Air Force Station, Spain – way up on Mount Pani. There are some pictures of my ‘sleepy little picturesque fishing village’ among them. Seen from ground level, Rosas looks disturbingly like Miami, Florida with a mountain backdrop. My little village is now a bustling city. The beach is still there, though, and still just as beautiful, and the Mediterranean is still that unique, lovely, multi-colored blue. For a time, I lost fifty years just looking at that beach and smiling. A lot of wonderful things went on in my long ago, friendly, sleepy little village.